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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Patent Problems for UC Adoption?

The Unified-View – January 26, 2008

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Will Patent Battles For Both Software and Hardware Interfere With UC Progress?

Recent industry news contained a report that Apple and AT&T, along with other communication carriers, were being sued for patent infringement of “visual voicemail” by Klausner Technologies, after Klausner won a settlement from Vonage in October 2007.

The inefficiencies of the traditional Telephone User Interface (TUI) have long been known, and “unified messaging” (UM), one of UC’s main applications, was particularly aimed at alleviating that problem. That kind of integration started at the PC desktop, but with the growth of mobile “smartphones,” has progressed to “multimodal messaging” and other online applications.

Then the second shoe just dropped with a small California company, Minerva Industries, Inc., filing suit against Apple and most of the other mobile handset makers for their newly granted patent on the hardware device design that supports all the different user interfaces of a “smart phone.” However, it doesn’t claim to “unify” or integrate these functionalities at the software level, just incorporates them all in a single handheld device.

So, how many more ”UC shoes” will drop in the complex world of UC hardware and software technologies?

Will “Visual Voicemail” Hold Up In Court?

How will UM fare in the courts? The need to have a better user interface to manage voice messages is certainly not new, having been implemented ages ago starting with the integration of voicemail systems with desktop email interfaces. That basically allowed the email interface to display and provide direct access to information about a voice message in the way that text message information was displayed.

For mobile cell phone users, UM did the reverse; it delivered an email message received by an email system, through the voicemail system, that contained a text-to-speech (TTS) playback of the information about the email message, as well as the text message content itself. This enabled email to be delivered more quickly by using the real-time notification capability of voicemail to proactively place a phone call to deliver new messages, rather than wait until the recipient can check their mailboxes.

Next Generation of “Visual Voicemail” is Already Here!

Now, however, UC, with its flexibility to use presence technology to determine the best way to make contact with a person, as well as allowing the contact recipient to independently choose the messaging medium regardless of what the initiator (sender) will use (text, voice), may also change the visual voicemail game.

With the power of mature speech recognition, visual voice messaging has started moving to greater flexibility and efficiency, through what is known as “voice-to-text messaging.” Offered primarily as a service to mobile users who need relief from the inefficiencies of managing the retrieval of voice message content, voice-to-text messaging allows the caller/initiator to have the convenience of voice input, but then allows the recipient to easily visually review and manage the disposition of the voice message as a text message. (Access to the original recording segment is also available for playback in the event the transcription is inadequate, e.g. a name, foreign word, etc.)

So, the question is this, will this next generation of call and voice message management upstage the old patent for voice mail retrieval, by using SIP and presence to bypass making a phone call attempt first, and relegating voice messaging to simply being a contact-initiator/respondent option for message input on a mobile multimodal device, while all other message management functions converge under the umbrella of next generation UM?

Why Should You Care?

Certainly, if you are a service provider and a patent interferes with your UC service offerings because of either the mobile devices or the software that they will require (servers, clients).

Certainly, if you are a software developer of mobile applications (business or communications) that will be constrained from offering your products on any end-user device.

Certainly, if you are an enterprise UC technology provider and can't exploit seamless use of different modalities on a device-independent basis..

Certainly, as an end user or organization representing end users who will be prevented from enjoying the efficiencies of universal UC innovation at a reasonable price, along with freedom of choice in services and devices.

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